Hoi An, Vietnam.

To reach Hoi An, Gavin and I concurred our first ever night bus journey. The night bus itself was an experience! And after 19 hours, it wasn’t a pleasant one. The night bus seems pretty cool at first, it’s just like rows of bunk beds on a bus! But after 19 hours of travel, and barely any sleep- because the driver loved the horn and felt it was necessary to use it every 2 minutes, it wasn’t so cool anymore.

When Gavin and I finally arrived at Hoi An, we were both very tired and hungry= hangry!! But after checking into such a lovely resort (we splashed out a bit more than usual since it was my birthday when we were going to be here), and having some food followed by a few power naps by the pool, we had recharged our batteries and were ready to head out to explore. We took some complimentary bikes from our hotel down to the Old Town for our dinner. After the sunset, the town really came to life  ! It was all light up with lights along the lake, across the bridges and lanterns everywhere! People were also sat along the river selling candles for you to lower down and watch float down stream, it really was such a beautiful little town.


Waking up the next morning, it was the day of my 23rd birthday and Gavin had booked me a surprise activity starting at 8.30am. Seeing as I was so buzzing (I am like a child at birthdays and/or surprises) I thought it would be a good idea to get up extra early and burn some energy off at the resort’s gym! However, after rising out of bed at 6.30am and not being able to find the gym in our resort, I ran up to ask reception only to find out that the gym was currently shut for maintenance! Gutted!! I decided to go for a quick 10 minute run the resort instead before going back to shower and grab breakfast with Gav. We then got bikes and cycled back down to the Old Town again and parked up outside a very fancy looking restaurant. Gavin had booked me a Vietnamese cooking class for my birthday! Walking in we got welcomed with tea and given Vietnamese straw hats to wear. Before long we were divided into groups with other participants and assigned a tour guide. Our tour guide was named Na, she spoke great English and was very informative! After being grouped and introduced, we all headed to the local market via boat across the river. Here, Na explained the use of many local herbs and spices in certain Vietnamese dishes and we got to taste many locally grown foods.

After the boat ride back to the restaurant, we were shown around different stations in the restaurant, each of which demonstrated the way different traditional Vietnamese dishes were made. We also got to sample the food at almost every station- some were more adventurous than others (such as jellyfish and pig ear salads).


We were then taken upstairs to get started with our own cooking! It was very professionally ran (a rare occurrence in Asia) with the teacher demonstrating all the way the dishes were made down the front and then helpers assisting throughout the class, providing all the ingredients for everyone as required. The first dish we made was a shrimp paste Vietnamese soup (doesn’t sound the best combination for a soup but it tasted great!)

 

Dish number two was crispy Vietnamese pancakes, followed by a mango chicken salad for the main. Everything was super tasty and I even impressed myself with being able to produce such flavoursome meals!

 

We didn’t make our own desert, but gave they us lemongrass flavoured ice cream to finish off with. Not quite sure who comes up with this stuff but it definitely works. The ice cream was so refreshing and totally didn’t taste ‘grassy’ as you might think from the name.

 


The cooking class then came to a close around 1.30pm, leaving us both with full tummies and pretty much a full afternoon left to enjoy! We decided to go around some shops and shop for what Hoi An is famously known for- custom made dresses and suits! After a lot of window shopping and bartering I got a custom made dress and gav got a custom made shirt both for $40!!!! The women initially priced both for $75 (turns out we have a skill for bartering). Bargain!!! I was so buzzing from such a cheap purchase, that I went and put my skills to use and bartered another dress down to $15. Happy with our bargain buys we then went back to chill by the pool for a bit before getting showered and ready to go for dinner and drinks. For dinner, we went back down to the Old Town and found a nice wee restaurant overlooking the river, we then moved down to street to the nightlife area where just about every bar was doing 2 for 1 happy hour… All night!

While sat in one of the bars, ten minutes after Gav came back from ‘the bathroom’, one of the waitresses appeared with a wee chocolate cake, light with a candle, with ‘Happy Day!’ written on it- the language barrier was obviously too much! But I defiently enjoyed the cake and after a few more drinks we headed back to our resort.

Gavin had hinted to reception when checking that it was my birthday and the staff went above and beyond by leaving a huge handmade cream cake and bunch of roses on the bed for me arriving back that night. It was such a lovely surprise and great end to such a great birthday!

The following morning, when passing reception we asked one of the guys at reception who checked us in if he had anything to do with leaving the flowers and cake. He replied : ‘Yes! To make you happy!’. I honestly think Vietnamese people are some of the nicest people you will ever meet! We thanked him and then took the complimentary bikes to the nearest beach (4km away) where we spent the morning relaxing by the beach before cycling back to the old town center of Hoi an to pick up both my custom made dresses and Gavin’s shirt that we had ordered the day before. Both pleased with our fitted shirt and dress we wore our new gear out for dinner that night. For our last night, we enjoyed another nice meal down by the river and then got a chocolate crepe and ice cream at a dessert cafe close by before heading to Nha Trang the following day via bus.

Gillian O'Neil

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